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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 9 April, 2003, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
UK and France hold Iraq talks
Dominique de Villepin and Jack Straw
Relations between France and Britain have suffered over Iraq
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and France's Dominique de Villepin have attempted to present a united front by agreeing the urgent need for international involvement in rebuilding post-war Iraq.

Mr Straw said it looked as though "we may be towards the close of hostilities" with Iraq.

Downing Street says Iraqi command and control in Baghdad seems to have "disintegrated".

But Tony Blair's official spokesman continued: "We need to be careful and cautious about this and there is still resistance and it could be stubborn - because of the breakdown of the command and control."

Earlier, Mr Straw stressed Iraq had to be governed "by the people of Iraq with the support of the coalition and the United Nations international community".

He insisted the UK and France had a "grown up relationship", while accepting sometimes the two nations "have different perspectives".

Mr de Villepin said a sense of "common values" was shared, adding: "We would like to express our sympathy that France has with the British people.

It would be very boring if friends always agreed
Jack Straw
"I would like to reiterate our support for many of the things that Tony Blair has been saying.

"We have also indicated our hope that the war in Iraq will be finished as soon as possible.

"Also, we would like to stress the urgency when it comes to the humanitarian effort in the Gulf that we all work together and that the international community plays an important role."

'Vital' UN role

The pair were speaking after a meeting in Paris, which follows talks in Belfast between UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush.

France, which is fiercely opposed to the conflict, has insisted the United Nations must handle the reconstruction of Iraq.

Mr Bush and Mr Blair repeated their desire for a fully elected Iraqi government to follow an interim Iraqi administration.

THE AGREED THREE STAGES FOR POST-WAR IRAQ
Coalition forces maintain security while a sub-Pentagon department controls infrastructure and aid
Formation of a broad-based, multi-ethnic interim Iraqi administration
Eventual move to an Iraqi government


Mr Straw reiterated that message, by saying the two leaders "had committed themselves to a vital role for the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq and other matters relating to Iraq".

"We all hope desperately that the conflict comes to an end," he told reporters.

"It looks as though we may be towards the close of hostilities - none of us want the blood of a single individual shed at all in this situation."

Mr Straw went on: "Both we and the US wish to see, as quickly as possible, the creation of a representative, democratic Iraqi government, carrying the consent of the Iraqi people responsible, crucially, for its own security... that cannot happen overnight."

As US and UK forces were already on the ground in Iraq, "we have to remain there - it's our responsibility to remain there until these other processes are through", he said.

'Higher agreement'

Mr Straw said Britain's ties with France were in "friendship, history and culture".

"It would be very boring if friends always agreed," he said.

"This is a grown up relationship. Of course we sometimes have different perspectives on issues and so what?

"What is important is that we work those through in a dialect and we show a higher agreement.

"Everybody knows there has been some difference of opinions on Iraq, but there is a huge range of issues on the agenda where we are almost exactly in the same place."

I think we would all agree that the United Nations will play a key role
Dominique de Villepin
Mr de Villepin said it was "very important" that the international community has "a central role" in reconstructing Iraq.

"That needs to come from the United Nations ... It is not a question of a vital role or a central role. I think we would all agree that the United Nations will play a key role."

Annan talks

Mr Straw and Mr de Villepin also spoke of the importance of the Middle East peace process which, along with Iraq and Northern Ireland, was a major focus of President Bush's visit to Belfast.

France has major commercial interests in Iraq and under the oil for food programme, it was Iraq's leading supplier of goods.

More than a fifth of all Iraqi imports were French sales.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan has postponed talks with the prime minister this week.




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